By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Mayor Bill de Blasio was at Bellevue Hospital as Dr. Craig Spencer, New York City’s first and only case of Ebola, was discharged on Tuesday morning.
“Dr. Spencer is Ebola free and New York is Ebola free,” the mayor announced at the news conference, attended by Spencer, his parents and the team of doctors and nurses who were responsible for his care.
Mayor de Blasio emphasized the importance of the work that Spencer had been doing in Guinea before he returned to New York. “It’s a good feeling to hug a hero, and he is a hero,” the mayor said.
Dr. Ram Raju, president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), echoed this sentiment.
“I’m elated because we could treat and cure a hero and Dr. Spencer personified this,” he said. “Had he not contracted Ebola, few people would ever have known him and there are many more like him. They are the heroes of our time.”
Spencer, in turn, tried to bring the focus away from himself and back to the efforts in West Africa where doctors are still fighting the virus.
“My infection represents but a fraction of the more than 13,000 reported cases to date in West Africa,” he said, recounting the sadness he felt when holding infected children and the joy he felt when patients were cured. “I will not be commenting publicly beyond this and urge you to focus on the source of the outbreak.”
Mayor de Blasio praised the city’s ability to stay calm throughout Spencer’s recovery, noting that New Yorkers were able to turn to Spencer’s calm demeanor throughout the ordeal. However, he said that in the midst of this, some needed to be reminded not to stigmatize those who are only trying to help.
“We’ve seen the good through the people who work (at Bellevue) but we have also seen people treated badly,” he said. “You never discriminate against someone for helping others. Some of our fellow New Yorkers (from the three West African nations where Ebola has spread) have been stigmatized because of where they come from. That is un-American.”
Spencer was admitted to Bellevue with symptoms of Ebola on October 23. He had returned from Guinea after five weeks there taking care of patients with the virus. His condition was serious while at Bellevue, but Mayor de Blasio said that by reporting his fever as soon as possible, he “did everything right” in helping his recovery.
Following Spencer’s release, First Lady Chirlane McCray announced that there is a new Mayor’s Fund effort dedicated to raising funds to fight Ebola.
“New Yorkers have a special appreciation for Dr. Craig Spencer, the nurses who cared for him and all medical first responders,” McCray said in a statement. “Like our city’s brave police officers and firefighters, they rush toward danger in order to advance the greater good.”